CQ Roll Call Report: Water a High Priority in Vermont Legislature in 2015
Water is among the issues most important to voters in 2015, according to the recently issued second edition of CQ Roll Call’s 50 State Project. The report contains a comprehensive listing and analysis of the issues that got the most attention in state legislatures in 2015, based on extensive interviews with local reporters about their coverage of state legislative sessions earlier this year.
Lawmakers in Vermont took significant action to address water quality in 2015. The legislature wrote new regulations for farms, commercial developments, and homeowners in an attempt to reduce the impact of agricultural and storm runoff on water quality. But even as state officials direct new money and resources to water quality efforts across the state, Vermont communities are struggling with crumbling pipes and other water infrastructure that is more than a century old. The state was forced to contend with a rash of water main breaks during last winter’s brutal cold, with some water system officials saying they were facing the worst water main problems in 15 years. And as recently reported by Vermont Public Radio, 130 year-old pipes are causing major problems, but officials don’t have the resources to replace them. The story cited a sewage leak that took place in Rutland in early August, causing a plume of sewage that ran for miles down the city’s East Creek. The leak was caused by a pipe attempted to be sealed off in the 1970s; the seal failed and sewage slowly made its way into the closed pipe. According to Rutland’s Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Wennberg, some of the pipes that carry drinking water to Vermont homes and businesses were installed before Abraham Lincoln was elected, and even newer ones are failing. The report makes clear that Rutland isn’t alone, and that Vermont residents are suffering from aging infrastructure across the state. The state’s combined sewer systems (designed to collect both sewage and stormwater) are also old and crumbling, causing raw sewage to be dumped into streams when overwhelmed by stormwater. Communities throughout the state have experienced this type of contamination but lack the funds to address the problem. It is no wonder that water infrastructure was cited among Vermont’s top five most pressing issues in 2015.